It's menopause awareness month so I thought it would be a good time to write about outward signs to be aware of.
Less aware actually, because that sounds a bit ominous, kind of implying danger.
It's more signs to notice, perhaps note down.
Perhaps actually, menopause awareness month should be re-named notice menopause month.
And while I'm here, I'm not alone in thinking menopause actually needs a complete brand refresh. Beginning with an entirely new name. Like my favourite, kōneki, from Japan. Which is a beautiful sounding word and translates to change of life. To me, change is positive. A chance to move forward and reset and experience something new, and grow. Change makes us adaptable, bringing with it a whole new set of possibilities. Menopause sounds old and not very pleasant. When in fact it's just a change which can be all the positive things listed above (notwithstanding there are, for sure, unpleasant symptoms). But unpacking the name is for another post.
Today, is all about first signs. If you notice them, and can associate them with possible menopause, (or more specifically peri-menopause, the years leading up to the actual cessation of our period) they're easier to manage, and you can check in with your Doctor to see where you're at.
Peri-menopause is a uniquely different experience for every woman, so these signs aren't listed chronologically, or in any particular order of significance - what affects me, may not affect you, and vice versa. It's also likely I've missed a few. Like everything, it's a work in progress, so I'll add omitted signs as they become known to me - personally, or through my research (and please share yours in comments below, every shared experience is a better one).
Here we go -
|Symptom||Menopause Related Cause*|
Heavier than normal periods.
Like a lot heavier. Full undies in a dark colour and leave your white pants + skirts hanging in the wardrobe kind of days.
Through peri-menopause our bodies begin producing less progesterone - the hormone which regulates the growth of the endometrium (the lining of the uterus - basically your period).
estrogen, and then progesterone build up this lining in preparation for pregnancy. when pregnancy does not occur, progesterone suddenly drops and this 'initiates' our period (very basically, as it's actually a massively complex and very clever system).
but with less progesterone to regulate both this uterine lining and the regular frequency of periods, it may become thicker, resulting in heavier periods.
A sign that soon, you'll be able to re-claim some major bathroom cupboard real estate. Out with the mountain of tampons and pads. In with calming sprays, face masks, and actual space to easily access your neatly arranged bathroom things.
In addition to less progesterone produced during the menopause transition, the number and quality of follicles (home to the eggs we are born with until they are mature enough to be released, month by month since our periods began) naturally diminishes over time.
At the same time, our bodies are producing less estrogen because these amazing, absolutely miniscule follicles produce much of our estrogen.
So, also quite naturally, our periods become less frequent.
The diminishing of our estrogen levels is not orderly over this time, it varies significantly cycle to cycle. It's kind of like a queue for whichever baked good is spiking in popularity at the time. Whoah, massive spike for cupcakes at Magnolia Bakery (Sex and the City fans will understand). Until suddenly cupcakes are so last week. A hiatus of normality. Boom, the queue for cronuts goes through the roof. Ugh, enough. Back to normal for a bit. Whoop, here come the croissants at rollas, sp-ike!
Just like the next new wildly-popular-until-it's-over baked good, these estrogen highs and lows are unpredictable, sporadic and at each high and low point, intense. Resulting in erratic periods...
Mood swings. Moments of uncharacteristic anger. A bit space cadet-ish.
Like wanting to smash a plate against the wall with zero provocation. forgetting stuff. feeling weirdly grumpy.
...and moments of 'strong emotions', brain fog, inability to recall certain things (like a word or where your keys are), inability to concentrate, anxiety and just generally feeling a bit sad or a bit shit...or all of the above.
This is also in part due to declining estrogen levels in the brain. But also to general life stresses, and because in many cases, menopause does start to occur as we get older, our brains are aging. Just the same as those of men.
Also for the most part it's temporary through this transition if you're worried about needing to invest in a car key tracker... and if indeed they actually exist. I'm not sure, but I have trained myself to leave the car keys in exactly the same spot every single time.
Clinically known as 'vasomotor symptoms', or as they were referred to from as early as the 1700's, 'hot blooms' which I much prefer. Because they do kind of start from the inside and 'bloom' out.
If you've had them you'll know what I mean. If not, a hot bloom can vary in intensity and frequency but share the common denominator of sudden, uncontrollable heat, emanating from within and making its way to the surface of your skin - to eventually cool down.
In a very un-sciencey nutshell of an explanation, estrogen plays a role - alongside neurons, in temperature regulation. Loss of estrogen where it previously was can make these neurons a bit shouty, telling our bodies we're hot when we are not actually not. Previously estrogen would have kept these shouty neurons under control, but with less estrogen to go round, the neurons do tend to jump the gun at the slightest hint of a temperature increase and trigger a hot bloom. They're erratic and vary greatly in intensity and duration. The one consistent is their inconsistency. And feeling unnecessarily hot sometimes.
For me these didn't start for a while after the other symptoms, and because they're widely associated with menopause this with the trigger for me to realise I was peri-menopausal. It was a relief because it gave meaning to the mood swings and from there I could understand, and therefore control the grumpiness much more easily.
No interpretation needed.
My symptoms coincided with the birth of my son. I thought the discomfort was just sex after having a baby.
Until it didn't improve over time.
Vaginal dryness is a symptom of declining estrogen levels. Generally lube works a treat. Stock up.
I know for sure our sprinklers run at 2am. Every night.
Unsurprisingly all of the above can affect your sleep - it's hard to drift off while thinking anxious and/or pissed off thoughts, and it's hard to sleep through a sudden heat wave, like in your dream you are elegantly disembarking your private jet into the glorious heat of tahiti, butgoddamnit you're wearing a farking snowsuit. Who packed this farking suitcase?!?
And being tired can make you feel more brain foggy and more anxious. and generally a bit shit.
A bit of a vicious cycle to be fair.
I'm also reading Dr Jen Gunters book "The Menopause Manifesto", which is an absolute gem, and which I have referenced in this post for some of the explanations of these initial signs.
In truth I don't love the feminist angle, it's good for a bit of history and perspective, but I feel like just focusing on being our best selves regardless of what has preceded is a really positive way forward.
Most importantly, leaning into this change with a positive attitude, embracing it, looking for the good in it - if only for the fact that thank fark we're alive to experience it, really helps.
I'm also a bit kinder to myself - which I have to say, is 100% a change for the better.
* As with everything here, I'm not a doctor or any kind of medical specialist. I'm a woman who's going through this and who is super interested in helping other women. This information is based on a combination of my own experiences and things I've learned from the research I've done, and continue to do.
All of these symptoms can also signify other medical issues so it's definitely good to see a GP.
There are also symptoms which are not outward, including osetoporosis and heart disease, so it is really good to check in with your GP if you recognise any of the symptoms listed above. I'll write more on those more "invisible" symptoms soon.
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